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Significant Scots
Abercromby, The Honourable Alexander


ABERCROMBY, THE HONOURABLE ALEXANDER (Lord Abercromby), a distinguished lawyer of the latter part of the 18th century, and an elegant occasional writer, was the youngest son of George Abercromby of Tullibody, in Clackmannanshire, and brother of the celebrated Sir Ralph Abercromby. He was born on the 15th of October, 1745. While his elder brothers were destined for the army, Alexander chose the profession of the law, which was more consistent with his gentle and studious character. After going through the ordinary course of classes at the university of Edinburgh, he became, in 1766, a member of the Faculty of Advocates. He was at this early period of his life the favourite of all who knew him, not only for the uncommon handsomeness of his person, but for the extreme sweetness of his disposition. Being given to the gaieties of fashionable life, he had little relish for laborious employment; so that, for some years after his admission into the Faculty of Advocates, his splendid abilities were well-nigh obscured by indolence or frivolity. Roused at length to exertion, he engaged with ardour in all the duties of his profession, and soon became eminent for professional skill, and distinguished as a most eloquent pleader. His reputation and business rapidly increased, and soon raised him to the first rank at the Scottish bar. In May, 1792, he was appointed one of the judges of the Court of Session, when, in compliance with the custom of the Scottish judges, he adopted the title of Lord Abercromby; and, in December following, he was called to a seat in the Court of Justiciary. "In his judicial capacity he was distinguished by a profound knowledge of law, a patient attention, a clearness of discernment, and an unbiased impartiality which excited general admiration." His literary performances and character are thus summed up by his friend, Henry Mackenzie, who, after his death, undertook the task of recording his virtues and merits for the Royal Society: - "The laborious employments of his profession did not so entirely engross him, as to preclude his indulging in the elegant amusements of polite literature. He was one of that society of gentlemen who, in 1779, set on foot the periodical paper, published at Edinburgh during that and the subsequent year, under the title of the Mirror; and who afterwards gave to the world another work of a similar kind, the Lounger, published in 1785 and 1786. To these papers he was a very valuable contributor, being the author of ten papers in the Mirror, and nine in the Lounger. His papers are distinguished by an ease and gentlemanlike turn of expression, by a delicate and polished irony, by a strain of manly, honourable, and virtuous sentiment." Mackenzie states that they are also characterized by an unaffected tenderness, which he had displayed even in his speeches as a barrister, and adduces the following specimen: - "There is one circumstance," says Mr Abercromby, in debating whether long or short life be most desirable, "which with me is alone sufficient to decide the question. If there be anything that can compensate the unavoidable evils with which this life is attended, and the numberless calamities to which mankind are subject, it is the pleasure arising from the society of those we love and esteem. Friendship is the cordial of life. Without it, who would wish to exist an hour? But everyone who arrives at extreme old age, must make his account with surviving the greater part, perhaps the whole, of his friends. He must see them fall from him by degrees, while he is left alone, single and unsupported, like a leafless trunk, exposed to every storm, and shrinking from every blast." Such was not destined to be the fate of Lord Abercromby, who, after exemplifying almost every virtue, and acting for some years in a public situation with the undivided applause of the world, was cut off by a pulmonary complaint, at Falmouth, whither he had gone for the sake of his health, on the 17th of November, 1795.

 
Picture of Lord & Lady Abercromby (at top of picture) taken with their staff.
Picture sent into us by Don H


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